A German bounty hunter and a former slave named Django join forces to capture and kill criminals and slave owners while rescuing Django’s wife from a brutal plantation owner.
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Run time/Rating: 165 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn with Butter
My mind was so figuratively blown as I watched “Django Unchained” partially because of its all-around awesomeness but also because of the countless number of bodies, heads and minds that were literally blown off during the movie that I have had to take a week or so to digest everything before I put my thoughts down on Tarantino’s new epic Spaghetti Western.
There is really too much to talk about so I am only going to give a brief plot review. We first meet Dr. King Shultz somewhat magically in the woods riding his carriage with a bobbing tooth atop as he comes upon a small group of slaves being transported. He is a retired German dentist turned bounty hunter and he is, at the moment, not hunting but seeking out one specific slave in all of the Pre Civil war south named Django. Whether it by skill, luck, or a bit of Hollywood magic by an incredible screenwriter he finds Django in that small group of men. He explains his situation to the slave transporters with intellectual speak they have surely never come across and when they object to selling the man, Shultz is given no other choice than to make the first of many casualties in the movie. I am already mesmerized by everything that happens in the first, very impressive 5 minutes. (This plot summery is not starting out very brief) I will try to be briefer from here on!
Dr. Shultz needs Django to help him find some slave owners who have committed crimes and he offers Django freedom if he leads him to those men. They embark on this bounty-hunting journey and it is not long before Django proves his worth. “He is a natural,” Dr. Shultz says in amazement after a quick Tarantino style training montage showing Jamie Foxx’s character’s perfect marksmanship. The relationship progresses from employer and hired hand, to mentor and protégé, to business partners, to friends over the course of the film. Dr. Shultz is a man who hates slavery with all of his soul. He learns from his new friend that Django has a wife named Broomhilda, a German-speaking woman who was acquired by the evil Mississippi slave owner named Calvin Candie and is still a slave on his plantation called Candie Land. They both decide that traveling to Candie Land and reuniting Django and Broomhilda is the task at the top of their list.
This is where the 2nd chapter of the film would begin if Tarantino had decided to take a page out of his own book (Kill Bill) and break this lengthily movie into two parts. I personally am glad that he didn’t. I agree with him that the 2nd part is needed with the 1st, just like the 1st is needed with the 2nd.
At this point we are introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Calvin Candie. He is an evil man who breeds Mandingo fighters, which is a sport that pins slave vs. slave in a brutal fight to the death. In order to infiltrate Candie Land, Dr. Shultz and Django disguise themselves as two men in the Mandingo business looking to buy Candie’s best fighter. In doing this, they will come across Broomhilda, a slave who happens to speak German and Shultz will purchase her along with the Mandingo fighter to bring Django and Broomhilda back together. This is a very interesting turn for the character of Django who has to ride into a Mississippi slave plantation and act as partner to a white man. This takes everyone by surprise, no one more than Calvin Candie’s head slave, housekeeper Stephen. An elderly black man who through the years has acquired the rights to say, a white butler.
That is the groundwork for the film that amazed me through out. I will not go into any more about the plot or the conclusions and will only make one small note about the performances. Topping the list is Christoph Watlz as a “supporting character”. He carries the movie throughout. DiCaprio is stunningly evil in a role that he is not getting enough credit for. But the performance that fits that description even more is the one by Samuel L. Jackson. His portrayal of Stephen is perfect in a part that is so falsely grounded and corrupt, it is a shame, despite of his lack of time on screen, he wasn’t awarded an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor. Jamie Foxx is fitting and cool as Django in a solid performance.
There are so many other aspects of this surrounding this film that have nothing to do with the movie and its brilliance at all. The three most concerning issues to people out there, whoever these people are and wherever these people are twiddling their thumbs waiting for nothing but the next thing to offend them are 1) The use of the “N word”, 2) The violence in the film, and 3) The lack of a strong woman role in the film. I am not asking for it, so forgive me or don’t however you’d like, but I am going to unapologetically defend the brilliant filmmaker on all accounts.
Dude, man, bro, chick, asshole, dick, jerk, pussy, computer, car, TV, couch, MP3. All of those words are just as common today as the “N word” was in the American south during the 1860’s. I am not saying that any of those words have the same negative historical implication that the N word still carries today or are any of them used in the same demeaning manner that the N word was used back then. I am simply saying that they are just a few of millions of words that are common in today’s time. In 150 years, if there were to be a movie made about life today, a movie that would consist of natural and accurate dialogue, it would be nothing short of imprecise to avoid those types of words and all words used commonly in this time. I read a story about Jamie Foxx’s people being very hesitant to allow Foxx to play the role because they were afraid of his “brand” being ruined in a movie that is so degrading to his ancestors, and one where he himself uses the N word many times. Firstly, it is unfortunate that an art form like filmmaking is so often thwarted by high-powered un-artistic types wearing suits in studios, but that is a different argument for a different day. Jamie Foxx’s people, who advised against him selecting the role either didn’t read the script, or just like many of the other thumb twiddlers that I mentioned above, were entirely too scared off by the use of one word with a historically negative connotation. Jaime Foxx is without a doubt the hero of this movie. Choosing to play this part is like taking the role of superman. Anyone who sees the movie or reads the script and doesn’t clearly see that the N word using black man, ex-slave comes out on top should really just give it all up now. During my screening, black people white people, all the colors of the world were cheering together for this visual backlash and small fo-historical righting, if only on film for a moment, of the actions that were taken against slaves for so many years in this country. Just like in Tarantino’s previous masterpiece which gives us the most rewarding 5 seconds in cinematic history as Hitler’s face gets showered with bullets from machine guns. It obviously doesn’t erase history or justify the actions of the Hitler or in Django’s case, the white American slave-owners, but at the very least it’s a small piece of revenge. Like a rewarding “what if” scenario or a daydream, it just feels good to watch. In my mind, QT accomplished everything he set out to do, and I felt as well, in the minds of most of the people I saw the film with.
The next issue that people are taking issue with is the violence in the movie. I will defend the director on this count by making this observation: the same way Tarantino plays with different genres like western, spy, gangster, animation at times, he also plays with drama, thrill, action and comedy. His movies consist of everything he loves in film; he draws from any of the tens of 1000’s of movies that he saw while working in a movie rental store before he made it big. QT wants his movie to be over the top. Not so people are grossed out and run out of the theater, he has a character fly back 10 feet after being shot in the chest so that the audience jumps out of their seats and erupts in laughter or applause. He wants to give the moments that are way to unreal that it could only be happing on screen.
Finally there is the argument that there isn’t a strong enough woman character in the film. To me anyone making this claim needs to remember that Quentin Tarantino is an artist. He is not a half bit screenwriter on a studio contract to make puff movies that are made to make money, please the masses, cross the generation gap and be shoved down the line to the red box kiosk in 2 months. His movies often do end up pleasing the masses and cross generational gaps but he is doing it on his own accord. Tarantino is an artist. To me, critiquing him about a lack of a character in one of his films – or pieces of art, would be like looking at a painting and telling the artist that there isn’t enough red, or enough blue in it. It would be telling the artist to add something that they do not see fit. Telling Picasso that he should add some orange to one of his Blue period pieces, or telling Van Gogh that his self-portrait should have a second ear.
Since seeing “Django” and re-falling in love with Tarantino as I do every three or so years when he releases a new movie I have taken some time to go back and review a portion of his filmography. Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds. Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s best movies and certainly one of the best movies of the year. My personal favorite for 2012.
Large Popcorn with Butter.